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2 July 2024

Rishi Sunak has lost the argument on growth

Labour’s focus on economic progress has paid off.

By Freddie Hayward

Two days to go. Labour is urging people to get out and vote. For a couple of weeks now, Labour’s priority has been to remove any complacency about victory among its voters. The fear is that Tory failure is being taken for granted. If the results on Friday aren’t as comfortable as predicted, expect this narrative to be central to the post-match analysis.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, are talking up bizarre claims that Keir Starmer won’t work hard after he said he wanted to protect time with his kids on Friday evenings. I suppose this plays into the Tory line that Starmer is arrogantly taking the result for granted. But I don’t think it will land. As I pointed out when the Tories deployed the “sleepy Keir” jibe at the start of the campaign, people don’t like a try-hard. Wanting to spend time with his kids on a Friday evening makes Starmer seem more relatable, not less.

These are the dregs of the campaign. But the Conservatives have ceded something important: economic growth.

Cut taxes; stop the boats; protect pensioners. That was the offer Rishi Sunak made on the BBC this morning. It’s part of the Tories’ defensive strategy, which is focused on retaining older Tory voters and people worried about illegal migration. Conservative promises are noticeably short-termist. There is no attempt to set out a vision for the next five years. Economic stability is only mentioned as the precondition for tax cuts. Economic growth is barely mentioned at all.

That goes against the political consensus. Keir Starmer knows growth is key. So did Liz Truss. She thought cutting taxes would incentivise individuals and companies to work harder, boosting economic growth and increasing tax receipts. For Labour, growth is the answer to all its problems. Not enough tax revenue? We’ll grow the economy. Low wages? Growth. Spending cuts? Ditto.

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Ceding the economic growth line to Labour has been damaging for the Tories. It has made them seem uninterested in the future. To be fair to Sunak, the BBC interviewers spent more time trying to catch him out on the price of a loaf of bread than focusing on his policies. (Well-prepped Sunak knew the answer, of course.) But Sunak himself was not forthcoming with plans for beyond the next Budget. And he could have been. Like Labour, the Conservative manifesto promises to speed up planning permission for infrastructure projects. It also promises to fund Northern Powerhouse Rail with extra funding on top of the savings from cancelling HS2. More childcare is a core Tory promise.

But you don’t hear about it. Instead, the Tories are briefing about what Starmer does on a Friday night.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: Will Rishi Sunak lose his seat?]

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